Eugen Sandow on “Boxing vs. Ju-jitsu” (Daily News, 1907)

  • Originally published on the site on Wednesday, 4th April 2012

Despite E. W. Barton-Wright’s advocacy of a rational melding of various “antagonistics” for purposes of self defence (a theme that was later championed by others including his former collaborator Pierre Vigny, wrestler/author Percy Longhurst and French antagonathletes Georges Dubois and Jean Joseph Renaud),  the years 1906/7 saw a “boxing vs. jujitsu” controversy play out in the pages of British sporting magazines.  The controversy is detailed in the second volume of the Bartitsu Compendium.

The substance of that debate included both the questions of “who would win” in a contest between a boxer and a jujitsuka, and also which of the two styles was a better method of self defence training. Barton-Wright might have replied that it did not have to be a question of either/or.

The following short article attributed to the famous strongman and entrepreneur Eugen Sandow is a typical contribution to the debate, mingling nationalistic sentiment with fighting savvy.  As did several other contributors, Sandow hints at having knowledge of “trials” pitting the two styles against each other, which evidently took place in private; a true “jujitsu vs. boxing” match would have been considered “brawling in a public place” under Edwardian English law.

With the remarks of Sir Ralph Littler at the Middlesex Sessions this week on the lapse in public favor of the “noble art” I am in cordial sympathy. The art of boxing as an accomplishment amongst the men of this country is undoubtedly upon the wane.  I am very sorry to see this, for the resort to fisticuffs as a method of self-defence or offence when circumstances call for such measures is a sound, healthy, and, all things considered, most satisfactory one. I ascribe this decline in popular favor to the growing habit of “looking on” is preference to “taking part,” which nowadays seems to pervade all branches of athletics. Attendances at boxing events were never larger than to-day, but I suppose also there never was a time when, proportionately, fewer men were able to use the “mittens.”

Perhaps the worst phase of the subject is that the average Briton has during the last two or three years been losing his respect for the national pastime owing to the popularity of the Japanese ju-jitsu, which receives a veneration that it certainly does not merit when compared with boxing.   A good knowledge of boxing is a more practical attainment than the admittedly clever Japanese method.  Because small exponents of ju-jitsu have overcome great exponents of wrestling, it has assumed a distorted magnitude in the eyes of the man in the street.  In such trials as I have knowledge of between ju-jitsu and boxing the latter has had a distinct ad vantage.  The more this is known the setter.

I think it is very important that the British form of self-defence should be encouraged for many reasons.  Boxing is good for men because it teaches the lesson of giving and taking minor hurts generously.  Experience in the sport gives a man a feeling of self-reliance and power amongst his fellows that leads to a magnanimous self-restraint in attacking a weaker opponent. Even amongst the worst class of men, a set-to with the fists must surely be preferable to the stealthy stab with a knife or blow from the back with a loaded belt or sandbag.

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